Culture: January 2007 Archives

Joe Ovelman: the first three drawings from the series, “Twelve Drawings” 2007 [installation view]

Joe Ovelman Rosa Parks 381 2007 381 polaroids and ink [detail of installation]

Joe Ovelman Regi 2005 video [still from video installation]

It's a tough show. Joe Ovelman gets right inside the wretched, beating heart of white racism with his passionate exhibition, titled "For Whites Only", currently at Oliver Kamm's 5BE Gallery. There are only about seven works in the gallery, but the minimalist, and oddly almost sanctuary-like installation manages to include one piece from just about every one of the media forms available to an artist today.

Missing however from this virtuoso show, perhaps significantly, is any representative of his own still photography, the medium with which Ovelman has been most closely associated until the last year or so. The 381 polaroid portraits of the artist installed on one wall were taken and signed by 381 different people who could self-identify as African-American.

The press release describes the show's one video, and the source of its ambient sound, very simply:

"Regi", 2005, is a video in which the paid subject, chosen for his African decent, stands naked and confined to one end of a room for 8 hours, the length of a typical work day. The video was shot in Porto Seguro, Brazil, a historic slave-trading port.

UPDATE: See Holland Cotter's review in the NYTimes February 3.

[third image obtained from the artist]

a small, faint, almost painfully sad drawing by Vivienne Griffin, from the show "Every Last Day"

There were a number of interesting gallery openings in Chelsea and elsewhere on January 11. We had tickets for a 7:30 performance in SoHo, but we still might have been able to make a number of shows before heading further downtown. We decided instead to visit perhaps the least obvious opening, that for a show called "Every Last Day", at the current, storefront location of Chashama, just off Times Square. We weren't disappointed.

The exhibition was mounted by an expanding collective of inventive artists called Dos Pestañeos. The show is called "Every Last Day". I want and expect to see more from these people, whether together or otherwise.

The last day of the show is February 28.

the reception crowd, mixed together behind work by Alex White with Lori Scacco in the window, as seen from the busy W. 44th Street sidewalk at 6 pm.

I told the salesman I've been dealing with for years at Sweetwater that I
should be recognized as the oldest composer to be using Abelton Live. He
asked, 'How old are you?' '76.' 'Boy, that IS old. Well, just keep doing
it.' Thanks, kid.
- Robert Ashley

We were privileged to be part of the audience last night for the premier of Robert Ashley's latest opera, "Concrete" at La Mama. It's sad to imagine, as I do, that only in future generations will large numbers of people be familiar with the work of this giant in our midst today. Even though it could hardly be described as "difficult" and even though its creator has been at it for almost a half century, this music is almost unknown to the people who are both the artist's muse and the only subject of his loving creation.

Not every one music listener today would be a candidate under any circumstances for the ranks of adoring fans of Wagner's Ring or Stockhausen's Licht cycle [I confess I am almost fanatical about both], but it may only be the tight corporate control of access to radio and television waves that can be blamed for the general public's total ignorance of the wonderful stories and music of the man who invented televison opera decades ago - and specifically as a popular and indigenous American art form.

Titles like these (from his catalog) are not made for an elite, and should not be kept in its possession: "Your Money My Life Goodbye", "Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon", "Interiors Without Flash", "Outcome Inevitable", "Improvement (Don Leaves Linda)" and "Music Word Fire And I Would Do It Again (Coo Coo): The Lessons". The music is even lovelier.

Performances of "Concrete" continue through Sunday.

Last night at the end of his rich daydream odyssey one of the voices of this semi-autobiographical opera's protagonist sighs, "I tell stories and sing; I've nothing else to do."

NOTE: "concrete" is here an abstraction for the poet's cherished city

[image from]

scattering the drawings - as much fun as the Gramercy - showing, among other pieces, Line IV 2006 ink on archival scrapbook paper 24" x 24" on the top left, Bulb I 2006 ink on archival paper 12" x 12" on the lower right, and Float 2006 ink on archival scrapbook paper 12" x 12" just above it [installation view]

It involved a lot of imagination, a lot of work and a certain amount of risk, but one excellent, under-exposed D.C. area artist has managed to arrange for a one-man show in New York this week all on his own.

J.T. Kirkland knew well in advance that his job would take him to Manhattan all this week, but he decided he wasn't going to limit his off-hour activities to trips to Chelsea galleries looking at other artists' work. Kirkland drove to New York with a selection of all but his largest wall sculptures packed in his car and he has installed them, along with some stunning drawings and prints, inside his downtown hotel room. The week before this he had sent invitations to friends, collectors, curators and gallerists and many have made the trip over the last several evenings.

Kirkland's "gallery" reminded me of the fun and reward of visits to the early Gramercy Art Fairs, when dozens of the old hotel's guest rooms were temporarily and magically transformed into something like so many "trunk shows" showing some pretty adventurous art. Sometimes you might quickly move on after a peek inside a room, but we both would have made this room a "stayer".

The New York world of the visual arts can always use more of this kind of infectious delight in a creativity unfettered by the conventional institutional structures (which in the long run couldn't possibly survive on their own without the continuous challenge of the excluded).

two small sculptures installed on the hotel room wall: Spalted Poplar, Purpleheart 2006 wood 6" x 6" and Purpleheart, Yellowheart 2006 6" x 6" [installation view]

I was already interested in the artist's work, having found images on line last year. When Barry and I later managed to come home with a small piece he had donated to the recent Visual Aids "Postcards From the Edge" benefit we found we were hooked on these wonderful wooden devices. We had also seen the equally conceptual, minimalist drawings he shows on his site, but I wasn't prepared for the extravagant beauty of the real thing. And the prints are really wonderful!

We had a great time this afternoon, not least for the good converstation. Oh yes, Kirkland also has a blog.


I cannot reveal the details of the hotel location here, but if anyone reading this is interested in a visit tonight on the closing day of the show, and is able to stop by there between 7:30 and 9:30, please email Kirkland at [email protected]

Satya Bhabha as Theseus, King of Athens

Barry and I have been going to productions by David Herskovits and Target Margin Theater from its beginnings, in 1991. I have been challenged, provoked, charmed, frightened, amused, confused and very often almost totally baffled, but before seeing the company's current production, "As Yet Thou Art Young and Rash", I didn't expect a TMT performance to make "perfect sense" to me. Well, maybe still not perfect, since that would imply the kind of tidiness normally reserved for Broadway and what I will call the theatre of small expectations.

Target Margin approaches its material (the classics of literature, revisited, reimagined, reignited) with the same kind of respect and irreverance which the Wooster Group now has made familiar to an entire generation of adventurous audiences, but mostly without the older troupe's snazzy electronics.

"Young and Rash" is an adaptation of Euripides's "Suppliants" which was penned (?) exactly 2430 years ago. I first became enamored with at least the idea of Greek drama while watching grey and white productions on early television, some of them live. Later I spent a lot of time in dark "art house" movie theatres and there I fell in love with Irene Papas and the violent world carved from her dark sculptural brows.

But now I inhabit what is called, with some arbitrariness, the twenty-first century. If I'm really interested in what the Greeks had to say I should be interested in listening to what it might have sounded like to the Greek audience. No one can reproduce the society whose audiences were first to support a Western theatre, but perhaps we can try adjusting the ancient plays to the society we have.

For me Herskovits and his collaborators have succeeded in making Greek drama not just dramatic, but totally real - for the first time.

The late, wonderful and much-loved scholar Paul Schmidt maintained that when it came to older literature in an alien language every generation absolutely needs its own translators [I never asked him how we should deal with older literature in what is supposed to be a familiar language]. Herskovits had the TMT cast begin by working with seven English translations of "The Suppliants", and later each began to introduce her or his own art into the dialogue, deliberately absent any perfectly-memorized lines, with each speaking more or less freely in the words and in the manner he or she found comfortable. Later the director, the writer, and the dramaturg [two of them at home with classical Greek] re-crafted the text to include the wealth of this contemporary vernacular. It's no longer just Euripides, but apparently nothing in "Young and Rash" is not in the original play, and I believe nothing has been taken away.

Mary Neufeld as an Argive mother, suppliant before Aethra

The costumes are also of our own world. In fact Herskovits suggests that we might recognize the almost deliberateley unstylish, comfortable clothing worn by American mothers when they are demonstrating for the return of their own sons - or some accountability for their bodies, and the bodies of other mothers' sons. This play is fundamentally about loss, and loss has no age and no geography. "Where's that woman going off to, carrying a crazy sign like that?"

The not-so-incidental music of this production belongs to us as well: In one example, we hear the plaintive strains "Home on the Range" used to evoke the comforts of an absent familial hearth. We shouldn't expect the heart strings of a modern American audience to be pulled by whatever a composer might come up with to represent music in the ancient Greek mode.

The result of what must have been a time-consuming, very intense but undoubtedly thrilling collaboration is, I suppose, . . . still quite odd. But if it is odd, it's odd in a way which should basically be familiar to an audience in a very odd world.

The wonderful cast, each member of which inhabits multiple roles, is very handily described on the program by costume:

Satya Bhabha (wears suit)*
Mia Katigbak (wears skirt)
Mary Neufeld (strums guitar)
Tina Shepard (grey sweatshirt)
Stephanie Weeks (long white beard)
Surprisingly, or so it certainly seems to me after fifteen years, this is actually Herskovits's first venture into Greek drama. I'm really looking forward to the next one, and the one after that; they've already been promised.

in a totally riveting debut appearance with Target Margin

[images by Hilary McHone provided by Target Margin]

from Act III, Rory Sheridan (Tiger), Carrie Getman, Harold Kennedy German and Elizabeth Knauer, with Robert Saietta, Beau Allulli and Okwui Okpokwasili (bear) further upstage

On Saturday, when I wrote about the PS 122 production of International WOW Comapany's "You Belong to Me: Death of Nations: Part V", I didn't have an image from the third act, "The Plague of Fantasies", the one which I had found so profoundly moving. Today I do.

Even looking at this silent, still image almost a week after seeing the production itself I find I'm shivering.

[image by Richard Termine provided by PS 122]

scene from Act II: Heimwehen of "You Belong To Me"

The latest, fifth installment of International WOW Company's ambitious, multi-year multi-national epic theatrical cycle, "Death of Nations", is now playing at Performance Space 122.

"You Belong To Me: Death of Nations: Part V" is the full title of the current manifestation, a collaboration between Josh Fox and Frank Raddatz, former dramaturg to Heiner Müller. The company's site describes the evening as

a whirlwind journey of territorial obsession. The play delves into the last days of three wars, spanning three centuries. Moving from a southern Plantation at the end of the Civil War to the end of the Nazi Holocaust, to the so-called “end of major combat operations” in Baghdad, we follow a single multi-ethnic family through several generations. Filled with brutal laughs and tragic irony, You Belong To Me is an intensely physical and musical rollercoaster ride of love, betrayal and murder throughout the ages.
While I did not feel entirely engaged in or provoked by the plantation mayhem in the first act [it may have been an off night], I thought that some of the same conquest/liberation/seduction ironies of the second (Germany, 1945) act were more successful. Then within minutes of the opening of the third, or contemporary Landstuhl hospital segment, I knew that I was unlikely to leave that room as the same person who had entered it, surely and dimly echoing the experience of the real patients, families and staff whose lives the company imagined so sensitively. It was an awesome moment in theatre, and if some in the audience in this small East Village space missed it, I blame American television, not the creators and performers.

Don't be discouraged by the earliest part of the evening; do not leave. I won't give anything away here, but the beauty, horror, "humor" [only implied, but drawing, shockingly, big guffaws from the audience] and above all the unspeakable sadness of the final half hour or so reminded me of the perfection attainable by the greatest art of any form.

At the same time, the fact that this piece can even be imagined, and that it can actually mean something to an audience of any political sensibility, is a truly shocking indictment of any number of nations - and an augury of their deaths.

[image from International WOW Company]

Portia Munson Wish 2006 pigmented ink on rag paper 61.5" x 44" [detail of installation]

[very large detail]

Portia Munson Green 2007 found green plastic 40" x 200" x 180" approximately [detail of installation]

The show is called "Green", and it addresses the contemporary complexity of a word whose meaning has expanded beyond its traditional utility as just a name on the color scale.

The center of the larger room of Portia Munson's exhibition at P.P.O.W. is covered with a huge scary green "lawn" of found, manufactured objects related to each other only chromatically. On the surrounding walls, on an entirely different note, are hung gorgeous medium-sized ink prints of variously-colored kaleidoscopic layouts of flowers from Munson's own garden. There the only "manufactured" element is the artist's arrangement of the blossoms she placed below the scanner.

I have no idea whether the bee seen in the detail above arrived on the scene naturally or not, but he or she is now in the continuum of an ancient still life tradition.

Mai Braun Your Emotions Make You a Monster 2006-2007 mixed media 15" x 72" x 66" [installation view]

Kerry Tribe Near Miss 2005 35mm color film with sound, transferred to DVD [still from video installation]

Jenny Moore has curated her first show as the new Director of Elizabeth Dee. It's titled "Material for the Making". Its quality is everything I would have expected from her, even if the installation includes nothing I could have expected - which is actually what I expected.

A handy press release, discussing both the show's concept and the individual works of four artists (Mai Braun, Kori Newkirk, Gail Thacker and Kerry Tribe), refers among other things to their illustration of the distance between the real and the represented. It's a show of visual art however, and everything manages to stand up almost on its own, most things needing only a gentle assist from the keys supplied in the text.

Mike Womack Warbling 2006 mixed media 12' x 14' x 20' [detail of installation, from without]

[detail of installation, from within]

Phew! Today, after going over some of the most depressing news stories of the winter (we're about to escalate an illegal, immoral and failed war while watching the disintegration and possible total reversal of an earlier campaign and learning of the initiation of a third), and after coming away from my previous downer of a post and the exchange it provoked, I'm ready for something completely different.

I'm not going to argue that Mike Womack's show at ZieherSmith is the most important thing I could report on just now, but it certainly represents a gentle good humor, a real and unqualified beauty, with the fillip of a delightful conceit in its production. Also, the images should show up very well on line.

There were two sculptures in the gallery (three if you count the background installation, shown in the second image above, which produced most of the magic for the effect pictured above it), and after exploring everything, Barry and I both left them very reluctantly, but smiling broadly.

conversation pit [opening crowd enjoying Vito Acconci's hexagon of trapezoidal seats, with the artist standing in the center background, a detail of Olivier Mosset's 2003 untitled triptych to the left rear]

D'Amelio Terras opened two very interesting shows on Saturday, a group show of works by Vito Acconci, John M Armleder, Olivier Mosset, Chuck Nanney, Steven Parrino and Sam Samore with the intriguing title, "The loss of history makes them constantly curious and continuously horny....", and an exquisite exhibition of Dike Blair paintings.

Even without the help of the 1995 structure whose parameters and inspiration is outlined in the gallery's press release the work in the larger space looks absolutely stunning.

In the smaller room at the front of the gallery there are some beautiful small gouache-and-pencil works by Blair from the late 80's and early 90's.

Dike Blair Untitled 1995 10" x 7" [installation view, with reflection]

Brian Ulrich Gurnee, IL 2005 chromogenic print mounted on sintra with luster laminate 30" x 40”

The sign reads "More Outdoors for Your Money Patriotic Chairs $9.99". The image is just one of the most resonant of the ten extrordinary prints Brian Ulrich has supplied for his first solo show at Julie Saul. I've been looking at this artist's remarkable work since 2004 and he continues to pull large and small miracles out of his more-or-less-candid large-format camera while he explores the familiar acres of the western world's stores of plenty.

After we had left the opening reception on Thursday we ran into some friends on the street where we told them about the show. To my astonishment I found myself able to describe in considerable detail several photographs I hadn't seen for several years, and most of the others seemed to be inside my head waiting impatiently for the chance to come out. These images just won't go away.

The show is titled "Copia", for its penetrating but very tender tender look at the material cornucopia (horn of plenty) spread out everywhere at our feet today, growing even faster than the communities which feed on it so voraciously. Unlike the image above, most of the work is highlighted by the dazed or absorbed faces of anonymous consumers.

But there's much more going on in these images, for the artist's eye and his editing have together produced truly-beautiful composed genre scenes no less authentic than those of Breugel or Vermeer. We've long since cast aside our long scythes and short needles, so here the earthy, fleshy busyness of the Flemish master and the simple domestic props of the Delft burgher are replaced by the mountains of manufactured "things" with which we surround ourselves three and four hundred years later.

Not incidentally for work like this, the printing quality of the large color pieces themselves is terrific; any reproduction seems little more than a suggestion of the piece itself.

Ulrich describes his initial inspriration for this series of work as a response to George Bush's post 9/11 summons for Americans to just go shopping, thereby equating consumerism with patriotism. If shopping has now become a political act, this artist has become the realm's unofficial limner laureate.

Judith Barry [detail view of video projection installation, including detail of beautiful, exceedingly-considerate visitor trying to escape the line of sight of blogger's camera]

Tomorrow is supposed to be a glorious day, with the temperature expected to hit a record of 70 degrees. Any lingering rain is supposed to end before noon. For anyone who hasn't made it out to the Queens Museum in the last three months it sounds like a great excuse for a Flushing Meadows outing to visit the latest edition of that institution's dynamic biennial survey of Queens-based artists, "Queens International 2006: Everything All At Once". The show continues for another nine days, but by the final Saturday and Sunday, January 13 and 14, New York weather could very well be handing us freezing winds or even a blizzard.

The show's two hard-working curators, Herb Tam and Jaishri Abichandani, have put together an amazing and amazingly diverse collection of works by more than four dozen artists and collaboratives, mostly "underknown" (always a subjective standard, that), and mostly undeservedly so, who are associated with the other Long Island borough.

I managed to grab a few images on our visit last October during the opening reception and I apologize now: There is absolutely no adequate excuse for my neglecting to do anything with them until now.

Paul Galloway's Williamsburg Mormons at ease

a detail of one of Wardell Milan's drawings, "Desire and the Black Masseur"

Amanda Sparks's giant autobiographical pop-up book

Neda Sarmast's video installation ("ask any of those kids . . . . ")

Alejandro Pereda's precariously balanced environment, and some admirers

a detail of Sara Rahbar's installation, "My Iran"

it's "us" v. "them" in Gigi Chen's watercolors (here served with coffee)

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from January 2007.

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